When I think of Southern Rock, one band immediately pops into mind: Lynyrd Skynyrd. I hate to use the word legendary too much, but this is one band that truly fits that description. Their pioneering style and relevant lyrics transcend genres and demographics, making them an integral thread in the fabric of American music. It goes without saying I was really excited to see them perform at Ruoff Home Mortgage Music Center during their Street Survivors Farewell Tour.
As the members of the Skynryd touring ensemble took their places, elaborate light supports and an arc-shaped LED screen hinted great things to come. When the band launched into their first song, “Workin’ For MCA,” the crowd roared. As hit after hit after hit poured out from the stage, the audience’s love and adoration streamed back to the band. Frontman Johnny Van Zant, brother of the late lead vocalist and founding member Ronnie Van Zant, was mesmerizing, singing with every ounce of his being and speaking to the audience as though they were in his living room. Rickey Medlock shredded like nobody’s business all night long, along with fellow guitarists Mark Metajka and founding member Gary Rossington. Keyboardist Peter Keys was the consummate showman, playing with exceptional skill and panache – truly a treat to watch. Bassist Keith Christopher, drummer Mark Cartellone, and vocalists Dale Krantz-Rossington and Carol Chase rounded out the Skynyrd band, along with a horn and sax section.
The large lineup of veteran musicians created a wonderful depth of sound that you don’t often hear in current rock or country music tunes. Well-choreographed lights, brilliant live captures of the individual performers, and poignant photos enhanced the production without overpowering the musicians – kudos to the production team and techs who made all that happen! As Ronnie Van Zant led the band through every hit in the Skynyrd repertoire, the crowd sang along to the chorus of every song. “What’s Your Name,” “Saturday Night Special,” “Sweet Home Alabama,” and “Gimme Three Steps” drew thunderous applause and cheers, of course. The patriotic, “Red, White and Blue” was dedicated to servicemen and servicewomen in the U.S. Military, and the final song of the set, “Call Me the Breeze,” was dedicated to the memory of J.J. Cale, as well as other musicians both living and gone. (I was pleasantly surprised to see Shinedown listed among the band’s heroes – they’re heroes to me, too!)
Nobody budged at the end of the set, because the iconic “Free Bird” hadn’t been played yet, and there would’ve been riots if the band had actually left. When they took the stage again for their encore, every able-bodied person was on his or her feet. I can honestly say it was one of the most exciting live performances I’ve ever seen. I’m sure the band was exhausted, but they pulled off an incredible feat of musical artistry with precision, passion, and style. Although every aspect was stellar, the epic guitar duet of Rickey Metlocke and Mark Metajka absolutely blew my mind – every single note of the complex piece was completely in sync, and these shredders made it look easy. Before leaving the stage for the final time, the band humbly thanked the audience for their love and support through the years, and I believe they were sincere. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who felt honored to be part of rock and roll history in witnessing the final performance of Lynyrd Skynyrd in Noblesville, Indiana.